WASHINGTON — Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Bob Corker (R-TN) have reached across the aisle to introduce legislation that, if it passes, would end key restrictions on food aid programs, freeing up approximately $440 million per year to be spent feeding 9 million people around the world. The reforms laid out in The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S2421) have thus far garnered bipartisan support, making it promising that the food aid bill will eventually pass.
The food aid bill seeks to make United States food aid more economically efficient by axing stipulations that require all international food aid to be purchased in the U.S. rather than in the countries where it will end up. Buying food locally significantly decreases the cost of supplying it both because it tends to be less expensive and because it precludes the need for shipping, allowing the U.S. to put food into more hands using the same amount of money.
In addition, the bill lifts a regulation requiring 50 percent of all international food aid to be shipped on U.S. vessels, a costly expense. Allowing food to be shipped on international vessels will not only save the U.S. $50 million annually, but will also allow food to reach its recipients faster and fresher.
Lastly, the bill would end the process known as “monetization” by which international food aid is sold by aid organizations before it is donated to the hungry. Currently, 15 percent of the food the U.S. donates to other countries is required to be monetized in order to raise money for other development projects. However, the practice has proven inefficient, and its end will save the U.S. nearly $30 million every year.
The bill would officially transfer the food aid from the domain of the farm bill to that of the Foreign Assistance Act, framing it as a matter of foreign policy rather than tired agricultural legislation.
Coons and Corker, who both sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are hopeful that the legislation will save lives abroad by efficiently getting food to those who need it. Senator Corker also noted that food aid has proven to be an effective way to promote stability in the developing world, thereby relating international aid to U.S. national security interests.
Despite that the bill will end the practice of sending only American food abroad, experts say it will not greatly affect our agriculture industry. From 2002-2011, food aid accounted for less than 1 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports. Criticism, though, is still likely to come from the agricultural sector, proponents of which may well accuse the Senate of failing to support farmers at home.
Aligning international aid with domestic interests will be key to seeing the bill pass, as U.S. President Barack Obama’s previous attempts to reform the U.S.’s $1.4 billion food aid program having been met with resistance from those in the shipping industry who believe this type of overhaul will cost them their jobs. However, that the bill greatly increases the economic efficiency of the food aid program has so far made it popular across the board.
Nothing is certain in politics, but this is: the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 is a bill to keep your eyes on. Watching it make its way through Congress in the coming months should be compelling.